Locals in a small Croatian town have sparked global outrage after deliberately setting fire to an effigy of a gay couple and their baby during a festival.
The effigy showing two men kissing while holding their child was burnt to a crisp in front of cheering festival-goers to the sound of funeral music on Sunday, during a Dalmatian carnival in the town of Imotski.
Croatia’s president, Zoran Milanovic, condemned the burning of the effigy on his Facebook page as “inhumane and totally unacceptable,” saying that event organisers in the South-Croatian town “deserve the strongest condemnation of the public because hatred for others, intolerance and inhumanity are not and will not be a Croatian tradition.”
“The event was observed by many children who could witness the spreading of hatred and inciting to violence,” Milanovic said.
While Croatia legalised same-sex partnerships in 2014, the nation remains deeply conservative with more than 80 per cent of the population practicing Catholicism, according to a 2011 census.
The burning of the effigy at the Bakova povorka, the 150-year tradition of carnival festivities in Imotski, followed a ruling by Croatia’s Constitutional Court in January this year which banned discrimination towards same-sex couples who are acting as foster parents.
The January ruling was hailed at the time as a significant step forward for LGBTQI rights in the conservative Catholic country. However, despite steps forward in the legal system, gay couples are still not allowed to adopt children in Croatia.
One of the effigy-men was made to represent left-wing Croatian politician and Social Democratic Party MP, Nenad Stazić, who made headlines in Croatia recently for affirming that same-sex couples should be allowed to foster children.
This affirmation angered festival attendees and organisers, prompting them to also use a photo of Stazić’s face as the head for the effigy-baby.
“My head is spinning from this culture of death,” an announcer at the effigy-burning told the crowd.
“This year, let’s set this grotesque family with baby Nenad Stazić on fire!”
Croatia’s government also formally condemned the event on Monday, saying it was opposed to “any form of hate speech or aggression… and any act that insults the feelings of the Croatian people and contributes to the divisions within society,” according to the country’s Hina news agency.
Burning effigies is a satirical tradition at Croatian carnivals, and are often made in the form of things or people that have upset or enraged local residents.
Croatia also has a history of controversial effigy burnings, including the burning of a children’s book about same-sex families in 2018 and the torching of an effigy of a Croatian-Serb politician last year.
The Rainbow Family Association, an organisation that represents LGBTQI couples and individuals who have or want to have children, said on Monday that the burning sent a shocking message not just to Croatia, but to its children as well.
The association’s coordinator, Daniel Martinovic, said that the effigy’s burning only furthered divided and increased ostracisation.
“The scary scenes from Imotski cannot be justified by carnival customs… What kind of message is being sent to our children, children who nowadays in Croatia grow up with lesbian mothers or gay fathers?” he said in a Facebook post.
“Burning a gay couple, and even worse, a child, directly calls for hatred.
“Such an act is an unacceptable incitement to hatred, discrimination and violence.
“It spreads the hostile environment towards both rainbow families and to children in the foster care system.”